When Cuban emigre' Abel Holtz, chairman of stunningly successful Capital Bank in Miami, acquired the ailing Hemisphere National Bank here last year, the goal was to create a national network of Hispanic financial institutions.
"Our aim is to establish the first nationwide network of minority banks," proclaims son Daniel Holtz, who says his father is negotiating to buy banks in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and New York.
But the Holtzes' dream of a minority monetary empire faces at least one formidable obstacle:
The Federal Reserve Board says Capital isn't a minority bank.
Capital Bank was formed by Cuban refugees, a Fed official explained, but since then it has merged with other banks and white Americans now own a majority of its stock. Even though Hispanics have the power to vote the white-owned shares, Capital isn't included on the Federal Reserve's list of minority banks.
The U.S. Treasury, however, disagrees and deposits special government funds in Holtz's banks under a program to encourage minority financial institutions.
The inability of the two federal agencies to agree on what is a minority bank underscores the difficulties facing the 95 banks owned by blacks, Hispanics, women, Indians, Asians, Eskimos and Aleuts.
Since the Treasury began channeling money to them in 1971, minority banking has flourished, although it has reached a plateau, largely for varied economic reasons. By the Federal Reserve's count, there are now 46 banks owned by blacks, 29 by Hispanics, eight by women, two by American Indians and one by coalition of American Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts.
The Washington area has become the microcosm of the minority banking world, with seven financial institutions--American Indian National Bank, Industrial Bank, United National Bank, Womens National Bank in D.C., First Women's Bank of Maryland and Prince George's State Bank in Glenarden and--assuming it counts--Capital National Bank.
But within the minority banking community there is disagreement both over the effectiveness of federal efforts to aid the industry and the proper role of minority banks.
"The only way we can serve any minority community is to attract the community at large," says Daniel Holtz, whose father emigrated to Miami from Cuba 21 years ago and opened his bank in 1974.
After growing rapidly and acquiring two other banks, Capital has become a $300 million institution and one of the biggest of the minority banks, most of which have assets of $50 million or less.
The senior Holtz himself seems ambivalent about his role as a minority banker. Capital is not a member of the National Bankers Association, which is the minority bankers alternative to the American Bankers Association. And last January when he announced he was changing the name of Hemisphere National to Capital Bank N.A.--like its parent in Miami--he seemed to put some space between the new bank and Hemisphere's traditional Hispanic customers.
Daniel Holtz said that Capital in Miami was one of the most profitable banks in the country last year and can become the base for a national banking network.
"We feel that interstate banking is inevitable," he said, noting that with the backing of the bigger Miami Capital Bank, the Washington bank could increase the size of its commercial loans. "We're a banking institution," he said. "We have to be good at what we do. Then we can serve Hispanic and black communities."
Holtz's attitude--that he is first a banker who also happens to be from a minority--is shared by most of his fellow minority bankers in the District.
One reason is that unlike some federal minority business programs that create what amounts to permanent subsidies for minority firms, the banking aid is but a minor boost at best.
For the past dozen years, the Treasury has made non-interest-bearing deposits in minority banks, federal agencies have used the banks to collect cash receipts, and the government has encouraged major corporations and financial institutions to steer business to the minority operations.
The program can help, minority bankers agree, but real growth must come from applying the same aggressiveness practiced by the majority banks.
"We have never stopped to look at the color of our depositors," says Samuel L. Foggie, president of fast-growing United National Bank of Washington.
It has been a successful policy for United, which opened for business in 1964 in a tiny bank along Minnesota Avenue NE. With assets of $57 million in 1981, United now has five locations, including its flashy new branch on K Street NW in International Square.
Foggie allows that the minority program did help United get established. "There was a real need for it. I don't have to tell you about red-lining," he says. It turned out that the white bankers were ignoring a profitable market out there. "We almost had a captive market, but then the big banks found out. So there are not the advantages there once were."
By contrast with United's aggressive search for business across racial lines, Industrial Bank of Washington has made a conscious policy of serving the black community. Founded in 1934, Industrial, which is by far the oldest minority-owned bank in the District, reported assets of about $61 million last year from its three branches.
Some minority banks across the country have gotten into trouble by not diversifying their loan portfolio and lending too much of their funds within the community they serve, according to a Treasury official who follows the banks. But Industrial apparently has succeeded where others have run into trouble. For example, according to Fed statistics, nearly 32 percent of its loans went for real estate, nearly twice as much as other minority banks, and 7.2 percent to consumers, nearly one percent more than the national average for minority banks.
"We make loans in the black community and we are situated in the black community," says B. Doyle Mitchell, the president of Industrial. "That's where we started and that's where we've remained all these years."
Two of the country's eight women's banks are in the Washington area--Women's National Bank in the District, which was established in 1978, and the newer First Women's Bank of Maryland in Rockville, which is less than three years old. Both report that business is good, that their clientele is at least 50 percent male, and that expansion is imminent.
Emily H. Womach, chairman of Women's National, proudly notes that her bank earned 1.5 percent on assets last year--far better than most majority banks--and that it has been profitable since its eighth month of business. A branch is planned for Georgetown and one has been applied for on Capitol Hill.
Though she heads a minority bank, Womach is an outspoken critic of the federal program, which she considers stingy and not worth the effort. Her chief criticism is that the Feds don't put enough funds on deposit with her bank to justify the cost of handling the accounts for the federal agencies.
"None of the government business is profitable," she claims. "Treasury has had a lot of mileage and publicity about what it has done for minority banks, but it's not there."
Why do people--not just women--do business with her bank? Like other banks, Women's National says it offers personalized service, but Womach really means it. "We do a lot of informal counseling," she says. "We talk to anyone who comes in about almost anything. But I stay away from marital problems because I'm not very good at that."
Out at First Women's in Rockville, Eve R. Grover, the bank's president, says that unlike Womach, she is after the government business. "To be honest, I find the government very supportive," she says.
While big banks and some minority banks position themselves for interstate banking, Grover believes there will always be a place for the small, personalized operation. "Minority banks, if properly managed, will always have a place, just like Ma and Pa stores," she says. "But management is the key--we must be aggressive."
Certainly the most unique minority bank in the Washington area is the American Indian National Bank, which is on the third floor of a building kitty-cornered to the Executive Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. There is no question of the bank's Indian ties--what with tribal bric-a-brac, scenic paintings, and rich earth colors. And the bank's chief executive officer, Conley Ricker, who sports hand-stitched boots and casual attire, looks as if he just stepped off a reservation, although he is not an Indian.
Ricker is a banker who has gained a reputation for turning around troubled banks--which was what American Indian was in 1978 when he was hired. It lost $885,000 that year. Like so many minority banks, the bank's problems came from being too generous on loans to its constituency.
Under Ricker, the once-troubled American Indian has been rejuvenated and is a veritable money machine. Last year it earned a staggering 2.3 percent return on assets--much of it from massive amounts of deposits from government agencies and nonprofit institutions in Washington. Ricker says he has also joined other minority banks in a consortium to lend money to Fortune 500 firms.
It remains unclear why the bank is in Washington, 2,000 to 3,000 miles away from the clients it purports to serve, although it does have a branch in Albuquerque.
But it is worth noting that, according to Fed statistics, American Indian did not lend much money--not to Indians or to anyone else for that matter. At the end of 1981, for example, only 13.4 percent of its total assets were in loans--versus 49.5 percent of other minority banks its size.
It's here because it acts as a conduit for funds from federal agencies and bureaus available under the minority banking program. The bank was founded by Yakimas, Unitahs, Utes and Knoiags, who, along with other mostly Western tribes, still own it.
"The bank is trying to build capital strength so we can finance business on the reservations," Ricker says.
The one area minority bank that remains a puzzle is Prince George's State Bank, a small, recently opened bank in Glenarden. The chairman of the bank is Jos Agyeman-Gyau, a native of Ghana, who didn't return repeated phone calls over the past several weeks. But last week his assistant, Paulette Waters, briefly answered some questions about the bank.
When the bank opened in 1978, it had capitalization problems, she said. "We have worked to combat that problem," Waters said, but she allowed that the bank is still in its "formative stage." She was asked if the bank still had capitalization problems. "The answer that was given to me was that we have overcome the capital problem. There is no capital problem now," she said.
It had assets of only $7 million in 1981, making it by far the smallest minority bank in the D.C. area.